Home is where the hearth / internet is

Home is where the hearth / internet is
5th January 2017 Tim Malnick
In Centre Edge, Uncategorised

What is the Centre of the home?

What is the Centre of your domestic or family life?

I was reflecting today that the hearth – the fireplace, was traditionally the centre of the home. It was where a person could warm up (vitally important in the days before central heating) prepare food and gather for conversation. It was also a source of light in the days before a quick flick of a switch would illuminate any room you like.

The hearth, the central fire was the place for eating, warming, conversation and light. Clearly it was the physical, symbolic and social centre of the house. In Centre Edge terms we might say it was the, or at least a, central organising principle – the Centre. Around the hearth the family life was organised, its rhythms, routines and patterns flowing.

It got me thinking, what is the Centre of the home today? For most of us I think, that seems harder to identify. As our lives and our technology increase in speed and complexity, it seems harder today to identify any physical, social or symbolic centre of our homes.

We’ve got electricity, we’ve got ovens and central heating. The hearth has gradually lost its centralising and cohering influence.


Telly as Centre?

And, perhaps most crucially, we’ve had TV. There is an old Gary Larson cartoon entitled ‘what people did before TV’ which shows a cartoon nuclear family staring vacantly at an empty corner of a living room.

For a period, maybe the 1960s or 1970s, TV perhaps became a new Centre of the house. The flickering lights of a fire were replaced by the flicker of the (once upon a time) cathode tube; the conversation and story replaced by stories coming at you, created elsewhere and by someone else, down the tube. When you recall TV audiences in the UK at peak times of over 50% of the population[1] there is an argument that this became the or at least a Centre of a home life.

There are of course any number of arguments why TV is not entirely a good thing. However, in terms of the principle of Centre, regardless of one’s view of TV, there is an argument that when there was just one TV in the house, just 3 channels, no video, and when watching and talking about TV was something of a social ritual and event, rather than a 24 hour multiple channel hopping affair, TV did provide some sort of central organisation principle – structuring time, conversation, family and to some extent social patterns.

Today the energy of Centre has become yet more dispersed. Another step away from the home fire, beyond the modern fire substitute – the telly. Now we have multiple individual screens, in multiple locations, with wireless and handheld and smart phones potentially in every location in a house. The flicker of a fire, replaced (arguably) by the flicker of a single TV, has transmuted into a mobile, personal screen, accompanying individuals around the house at any moment in time, and with pretty much any content.

In terms of Centre Edge principles, the Centre (whether physical, social, or a more abstract sense of core essence or intrinsic nature) is becoming ever more dispersed.

It strikes me as not a complete coincidence that as screen technology becomes more portable, multiple and individual and we move further away from gathering around a fire, or around anything together at the same time, and as we move toward individual screens, individual meal times and individual patterns within the home, the notion of family is in itself breaking down or at least being radically challenged.


Family life, centres and gadgets:

Curiously on the day I wrote this I read a preview of a new TV show that gets a family to experience a typical lifestyle from each decade since the 1950s and reflect on what they learnt in each decade.


The researchers suggest that, “The 1970s was the happiest decade for family life before the advent of technology began to fracture the generations.”

The family in the show reflect,

            “The 1970s were very hard to leave,” adding that although they also enjoyed the 1980s part of the experiment “technology started to fracture our family life … we really felt the impact”.

            “The 1980s was about individual leisure,” explained Rob. “When TV and music videos and gadgets started to come into our lives, it started to fragment us somewhat. It was quite strange … we could gradually feel being pulled apart.”

It is interesting to notice here how readily this family (as we all do) describe their inner experience and the subtleties of relationship in the language of physical space and movement. They talk about things ‘fracturing’ family life, of feeling ‘pulled apart’. Later they talk about shifts that helped them feel ‘closer’.


The language of physical space and movement:

Centre Edge has much to say about this sort of language. Humans very naturally try to make sense of subtle aspects of our experience and relationship in terms of movement, space, closeness, distance etc. The language of being pulled and fragmented does suggest that a central organising principle, the thing around which life coheres, has become weakened. All of us will have had the experience of this sort of thing in relationships, groups and family life.

There may of course be many benefits to new technology and the increasingly pluralistic possibilities of family life. But perhaps it is useful for all of us, from time to time, to ponder what we consider the Centre of our home or family life. What is the central organising principle, essential quality or intention around which the elements and activities of our daily lives configure?

As we explore we may find that we hold individual intentions, but not so much a shared family one. Perhaps, if we are honest and take a good look at our collective behaviour, we might identify central principles that do hold things together – in terms of setting the rhythm and pattern for life – but are not what we really wish for, nor conscious intentions. For example: getting everyone where they need to be on time; just making it through the week; avoiding intimate connection – all of these could and do unwittingly become organising principles.

To the extent that we can’t locate a central organising principle, or we notice ones in operation that aren’t really what we would most wish for (and therefore which are inevitably creating patterns and habits of family life that are not what we wish for) we could explore consciously articulating and consciously holding new central principles.

As a simple example, some people experiment with no screen days. The family in the show now make sure that in the busy whirl of life they have set days when they sit down and eat together. None of this is rocket science – after all eating and talking together, without looking at a screen, just takes us back to what all but the last few generations of humans would have naturally done – well before we had rocket science!

What Centre Edge allows us to do, is to consider what is at the Centre of these parts of our lives, and to notice what patterns of activities, routines, rhythms and communication stem from there. And in so far as the daily routines are not serving our deeper wishes, reflecting together on Centre and how to skilfully augment that can be helpful, creative and fun.

We have many more choices now, many more possibilities, distractions and seductions. Many of these are interesting, entertaining and enjoyable. But if we lose the sense of a meaningful central principle of family or home life that is deeper than mere entertainment and enjoyment, we may for all the technical wizardry at our disposal, be losing something very old, and very precious that can give rise to a genuinely rich life.




[1] Wikipedia tells me that when Dirty Den filed divorce papers on Angie in Eastenders on 25th December 1986, 30.15million people were watching. The UK population at that time was 56.68 million.